Sometimes the statistics relating to domestic abuse are so bleak and relentless, I often find myself dumbfounded by the enormity of the issue.
“Domestic abuse affects one in four women and one in six men in the UK”.
“It leads to, on average, two women being murdered each week and 30 men per year”.
“It has more repeat victims than any other crime. On average there will be 35 assaults before a victim calls the police”.
These figures tend to be brought up whenever the issue of domestic abuse is discussed. I hear them so much now that, sometimes, the hard-hitting nature of the facts can get lost amongst the sheer mind-boggling nature of the numbers. At times it’s hard to see the harrowing consequences of abuse and the suffering that lie behind these numbers.
Neuroses are incredibly common in victims of abuse and those who witness it. So too are drug and alcohol dependencies, violence, crime and suicide. All of these have the potential to set the victim upon a slippery decline that, if left unsupported, can lead them plunging into a trap of physical, emotional and financial deprivation that can take many years to escape from.
Refuges offer a safe, immediate haven for these victims and their children to escape to and get away from the threats of violence. Their trained counsellors and specialists help to piece back together the damage that the abuse has left on them and I cannot praise them enough for the essential service that they deliver.
They can help the family to find and move into a new home away from the threat of abuse. However, in many of these cases the homes come unfurnished. Many victims flee home without any possessions, furniture or clothes. Without the financial means to buy everything again settling into a new home can be very difficult. Some families return to the abuser through necessity and the whole cycle starts again.
The charity, Buttle UK, provides these families affected by domestic abuse with grants of up to £2,000 to remove some of the financial barriers that prevent families from moving on. A child’s bed, for instance, can allow a young person affected by domestic abuse to get a good night’s sleep and thus perform better in school with the chance of achieving their best; a chance that they may not have had if they had to sleep on the floor every night.
It also pays for services―such as therapy and after school clubs to help improve a child’s social, emotional and behavioural problems―and items―such as toys and essential furniture to help the family feel settled in their new home. These are holistic grants that aim to meet the full spectrum of needs for these children, which often go overlooked, and provide the parent with one less problem to worry about.
The importance of refuges as a first point of contact is crucial for these victims. On a recent video for Women’s Aid, Sharron, a domestic abuse survivor, saidthat without the support of a refuge, “I’d be dead now. I would have died. It was sheer luck that I put my hand up”.
However, it took many attacks before Sharron heard about refuges. “If I’d known that there were [refuges] I would have gone to one. Because...he wouldn’t have stabbed me, my daughter wouldn’t have witnessed it, my daughter wouldn’t have got PTSD. Everything that happened after I left wouldn’t have happened if I had gone to a refuge.”
However, even in light of their unquestionable necessity, since 2010, 32 refuges for domestic abuse victims have been shut down. Victims now outnumber refuge beds 3,262 to one. Refuge, one of the largest women and children’s refuges in the UK, has reported an 80 per cent cut to their services since 2011. All of this has placed incredible strain upon these services and left victims with fewer options.
The Sun’s recent campaign to end the domestic violence scandal “Give Me Shelter” highlighted the desperate need for more support. In many ways, this campaign has made great waves in raising awareness of the decline of refuges. One key success is that the Chancellor, George Osborne, has said he will “increase funding for domestic abuse victims and women’s refuge centres”.
This has been great news for some, but others have criticised this funding for being too little too late. “Only a long-term funding solution that recognises the need for a national network of refuges will stop the crisis from recurring repeatedly. We desperately need the Chancellor to pledge to introduce a new system of funding for the next financial year”, says Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid.
I don’t want to sound ungrateful; it’s fantastic news that the government is acknowledging a need to support this vital service―especially since it’s in their best interests to do so. Domestic abuse costs the government £16billion per year! This includes costs of the NHS, criminal justice system, social services and housing. Investing in these services makes economical sense and will save billions in the long-term.
However, since these cuts to refuges and Local Authorities began, we have seen a noticeable drop in the number of applications for financial support we have been receiving at Buttle UK. It’s not that the need has gone but we fear that many families are slipping through the gaps and going unnoticed.
We hope that the government continue to see the importance of funding refuges. Hopefully it won’t be shutting the stable doors after the horse has bolted.